- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Last week Congress held two sets of hearings on human cloning. One bill, by Reps. Dave Weldon and Bart Stupak and Sen. Sam Brownback, would ban cloning entirely. A second bill by Rep. James Greenwood would permit cloned embryos for the purpose of stem cell research and medical treatment, but would ban the insertion of such cloned cells into a womb, because that would potentially create fully cloned humans. President Bush endorsed the total ban.

There are two arguments against, and one argument for, permitting the cloning of embryo tissue. The argument for it rests on the medical values of the process. Such tissues are believed to have the ability to morph into any type of human tissues. Thus the method could replace defective heart muscles or damaged spinal nerves, or Alzheimer-damaged brain tissues. In other words, there exists the potential to relieve mankind of many of its fatal or debilitating medical conditions. If you look into the saddened eyes of a 16-year-old quadriplegic or the empty eyes of a once intelligent 60-year-old Alzheimer victim, you can't doubt the blessing of such a treatment.

But the two arguments against the cloning process also have their strength. First, is it essentially abortion? Are we crossing that bright line to permit the killing of a potential human? If we are, then embryo-cloning is a form of human sacrifice killing one so another might live and ought to be banned.

The human tissue involved in the process is, technically, about 100 cells of a blastocyst a fertilized egg that has not yet been implanted in the uterine wall. There are plenty of such discarded eggs created by couples seeking in vitro-fertilization. While reasonable people can differ, for me, this zygotic state does not rise to the level of human dignity possessed by a developing fetus; and thus, the use of such egg cells should not be considered the aborting of a human life. While pro-lifers split on this question, the majority currently believe it to be abortion.

The other argument against embryonic stem cell cloning, ably put forth by Bill Kristol in last week's Weekly Standard, is that such a process is potentially human cloning, and is thus an immoral violation of God's immutable creation of man. Mr. Kristol points out that permitting the cloning of non-implanted eggs, but banning the cloning of implanted eggs, is an unenforceable distinction. Therefore the entire process should be banned. He is right on his first point. But should we ban human cloning, which is ultimately what the issue comes down to?

I know I ought to be against human cloning and other forms of calculated genetic engineering of humanity. And yet, I find the idea intriguing, if dangerous. After all, we might be able to improve our species, although we would do so at the risk of playing God. These thoughts were triggered while I was reading Time magazine's mind-bending cover story last week on the latest scientific theory for the end of the universe.

Apparently, because the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace since its creation by a big bang 15 billion years ago, scientists can deduce that it will continue to expand more rapidly until eventually the stars will burn out, collapse upon themselves and decay, leaving a featureless, infinitely large void. That will constitute the end of the universe.

Of course, this will not happen for a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years, so we will still have to clean the dishes and go to work tomorrow. But if such teleological thoughts don't justify abandoning ourselves to immediate hedonism, they did trigger in my mind a broader view of those current legislative proposals to ban all human cloning and embryo stem cell research. If our distant descendants are destined for material oblivion anyway, perhaps we are being a tad hubristic when we proclaim the necessity of maintaining unchanged in perpetuity the current human genetic scheme.

Cloning is, of course, ultimately a religious judgment. But as I contemplate Christian teachings, I find ambiguity. While I am not aware of any biblical comment explicitly on cloning, I am struck by the analogous arguments about how a Christian comes into a state of grace. Some Christians, such as Calvinists, believe that we are pre-ordained to be going to heaven or hell; no good works or prayers or chosen relations to Jesus can change the outcome.

But others, especially evangelicals, believe that what we think and do on this Earth can have an effect on our soul. As the former Unitarian minister who became the great transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "We were made to become better." Perhaps, in the exercise of our free will, if we make ourselves physically better we may also improve our spiritual state. If we could, by genetic engineering and cloning, create a stronger human repugnance for sin, would that be a violation of God's immutable creation? Or would we, thereby, be carrying out His mysterious will? I have to see more before I will accept the anti-cloner's claim that they have God on their side.

E-mail: tonyblankley@erols.com

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